The happy list

Life does play out in many sweet days and like the crumbs of a wonderful cookie, happiness can be had in many tiny, random ways. For me, and for now, it includes:

1. Federer winning Wimbledon. And how! After the heartbreak of losing the same time last year, on the very same court, to the beautiful beast Rafael Nadal (and I mean that as a compliment to Rafa in every way), when he had that chance then to match Sampras’ record, here finally is sweet victory for the gentle, steady Roger Federer. Of course I wept, but this time around they were tears of joy — for second chances, for the triumph of the human spirit, for nerves of steel, for the heart of a true champion prevailing over the pressures of the day. I was so happy for the guy (not that it matters, not that he will ever know).

It was an epic fight befitting the reward at that journey’s end: Federer not only matching Sampras’ record but topping it, thus emerging as the greatest tennis player in the world to date. I almost fainted many times during the match, as I watched from our bed in the dark of our room, given all the suspense in the fifth and last set. But anything less would have been anti-climactic, and although Andy Roddick made it far from easy for him, in the end destiny decided Roger Federer had to have the better day. So, thank you, God. I must have been so happy because I slept a long, dreamless sleep, something that has been a luxury for the past weeks. And I woke up smiling still, the happy feeling still very real.

All that shared, I wonder what it feels like to win in some contest — not of the sedate kind, but a physically exhausting one that only happens in the realm of some wonderful sport. I have never experienced that kind of victory. If I ever won a sports trophy, I would want it not to be some statue, but a cup — a big, gold cup, bigger than my head. I told Richard I wouldn’t dare display it in some fancy corner of the house, to be ooh-ed and ahh-ed over, to be stroked respectfully and almost reverently; I would actually use it — and how — to hold flowers and fruits, to serve a heap of home-baked cookies, to hold lovely bars of finely-milled soap, to serve soup or some fancy layered dessert, even. Goodness, I might even try to sleep in it if I could. It would be part of everyday life as it flows in our home and it would be my very own magical cup — a happy cup reminding me only of happy days. It would be scratched and dented most probably, here and there, but that would not matter, after all, for it would be all mine.

2. Leche flan mixed with cheesecake. In a most delicious, wonderful way. For my show on QTV, The Sweet Life, we had this guest chef, Louie Espiritu is his name, who ingeniously mixed a generous amount of cream cheese into the ubiquitous leche flan he was making, as a last step right before steaming it. It was so good: a warm, trembling version of the cheese-flavored dirty ice cream that I was so addicted to during my childhood.

Over the weekend I will try to make one just like that. I surmise any beloved leche flan recipe will do very nicely with the surprise kick of the cream cheese.

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3. I went home to Ormoc over the weekend to attend our alumni homecoming. I had my share of warm fun, the kind that springs from the remembrance of old places and the stories that play out in them, tucked in some nook of the mind, like teenage diaries concealed in some pretty box that once used to hold shoes or some fancy old-brand chocolate. I saw schoolmates and classmates, most of my old teachers. I came face to face with a lot of happy memories and I placed familiar faces sometimes with either lovely, distinct penmanship, or quirky family names and even quirkier habits, as I remembered them. It’s amusing to find out what you recall, alongside those you also forget. This brand of trip down memory lane is always nice. There is something gentle about revisiting your roots, if only to know and embrace just how much has changed, and how much stayed the same. To some measure, these things shape us. I am looking forward to the next one.

4.  Still in Ormoc, I was able to spend a lovely few hours in Merida where Father Libby, a spunky Augustinian priest, works tirelessly to make what once was a lonely, scary, secluded hill into a bright happy place. He has built a church there, a breezy one that sits on the highest point, quarters for seminarians who come from far places like Nigeria, India, Indonesia and Sri Lanka, a little chapel for an image of The Lady of Manaoag. There are more improvements in the works. He fed us a delicious home-cooked meal, fresh fruits, and the best coffee that side of Leyte. He says he learned and perfected it when he was assigned in Italy many years back. I am shamelessly addicted to the taste and I love how he serves it in pretty little espresso cups. I think the latter really heightens the pleasure. I had two cups that day. You go away from the place feeling blessed, peaceful about your life and circumstances, whatever they may be, simply happy. And you know it’s not just because of the good coffee. It is a kind of joy that you cannot quite place your finger on; you just know it is there. And that is enough.

5. Malted chocolate tablets. I am still desperately seeking the Horlicks of my youth but I found the next best thing. A friend of mine who owns a pharmaceutical company has this charming, vintage gadget that presses powder into tablets the old-fashioned way. She graciously asks some someone from her staff to press, one by one, hundreds and hundreds of little tablets for us. Oh, the poor thing. As I write this, three plastic bottles have just landed on our doorstep. Consequently, there are three very happy people right now — me, my husband and our daughter. This batch should last us some time. God bless my friend, Mia, and the man whose arms are probably sore already from all the manual pressing. I pray you do not get too tired wrestling with that heavy, vintage machine.

6. Cooking lessons. Today I started the first of a series of serious cooking lessons. I had so much fun, learning the uses of different gleaming knives, going about familiarizing myself with many different ways of cutting and chopping vegetables. I learned new things — recipes and technical terms, the latter were words that roll happily with tongue and lips when you say them: mirepoix, macedoine, chiffonade. Today we made salad dressings, tomorrow we will do sauces.

It was a happy place, I had a very pretty apron on and there were lots of bright yellow spatulas and spoons, sturdy pots and pans, too. It was like being on some fancy cooking show. The yellow spatulas are from SM, I was told. I made a mental note to myself to bring myself over there and get my own batch for our own kitchen here at home. They are a cheery yellow color, little rubber somethings that make you happy just by looking at them.

7.  Dear Darla. Earlier this week Ms. Gigi, one of our bosses over at GMA introduced me and Wilma (Doesn’t) to Dear Darla, a kind of pizza from Yellow Cab. It is both delicious and amusing, in equal measure. The pizza is not cut into wedges; instead the whole thin crust is divided into strips. You are supposed to top each fairly wide strip with a piece of arugula, a little heap of alfalfa, and then you roll it tight so that they look like the little fat wheels from a little boy’s toy truck. You then dip it in chili oil. Bite, chew, swallow; then you go back for seconds, thirds even, although on a guiltless binge day I dare say it is very easy to finish off the whole thing, leaving only a very lonely box. It is very good. I am definitely going to order some more of that very soon. Maybe tomorrow.

8. Do you remember Steve, Big Bert, Little John? Jamie and Mark? I miss Voltes V. I miss Grandizer. Transformers is a bit too complicated for me, too busy (no offense meant to the fans). I just like the simple robots, with easy lines that I can draw. My first real crush was Grandizer. I once actually thought he would be my first boyfriend. I wish they would bring this show back to TV; Daimos, too. I want to know the love story of Richard and Erika.

Today I remember wanting very much to visit the Goya factory when I was my daughter’s age. Back then I promised myself that if I were given the chance to enter the factory as it appeared in the TV commercial, I would definitely trip on myself so that I could fall and swim in a little river of chocolate, right under that chocolate bridge. I no longer want to do that now (I will be just as happy dipping my fingers in some chocolate river and licking them) but it still makes for a very happy thought.

I also remember wanting to meet Tita Maggi very much. Remember her? Daddy’s nanny, Lola Apyang, used to feed me, my siblings and our cousins with Maggi noodles all the time. She would dump packs of it on top of newly cooked rice and our joy would just swim alongside the porridge-y, noodle-y soup in our bowls. Years ago when I was a very new bride I had the chance to meet her, I forget now which gathering it was, but Tita Maggi did not disappoint. She smiled a lot, and she really does have that kind face. That night I also found out Tita Maggi is married to Quinito Henson. It entertained me no end that Tita Maggi was married.

What is your personal happy list this week? What were your childhood dreams? You should list them down. I wonder how many times you will smile along the way.

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